As a rope, not perceived distinctly in dark, is erroneously imagined,
As snake, as a streak of water, so is the Soul (Atman) erroneously imagined.
Gaudapada,Māṇḍukya Kārikā 2.16-19
Just what does Neptune do your birth chart – and how should we interpret it? To begin with, Neptune is the name given to the Roman God of the oceanic depths, a fantastically boisterous figure who could make the earth shake. And yet the astrological Neptune -idealistic, seductive, dreamy and richly imaginative, not to mention a symbol of human empathy and compassion – is not aggressive in the least. Here we have a feminine archetype. A multifaceted planet that rules over the spiritual realm – one that makes us soar up into the spirit, and at other times makes us descend to the level of the gutter (and worse).
Neptune is far better embodied in myth by the Hindu principle of Maya, a magical power presiding over appearances and illusion. In the Upanishads, Maya pertains to the impermanence of the world, its temporary forms which come and go. Life and reality is transience and change, essentially because the material world is but a shadow of something more permanent: the Spiritual realm. It is in this sense that the outer, material world of our senses is an illusion. Quantum physics tells us that there is no matter as such. The chair you sit on is not actually solid, but a ‘concentration’ of subatomic particles, or energy. The chair, in fact, is mostly empty space! Maya is your perception that the world is solid and unchanging. But it’s an illusion. As one writer put it:
The term Maya has been translated as ‘illusion,’ but then it does not concern normal illusion. Here ‘illusion’ does not mean that the world is not real and simply a figment of the human imagination. Maya means that the world is not as it seems; the world that one experiences is misleading as far as its true nature is concerned.1
THE IDEAL VS THE REAL
In any attempt at understanding astrology we must examine the core meanings, the archetypal drives and needs that planets symbolise. One archetypal need, well noted by depth psychology, is for redemption, the yearning for heaven on earth, and the release from life’s everyday limits and responsibilities. This is essentially what Neptune is all about. Whether we achieve this ‘self-transcendence’ instantly (through drugs, alcohol, violence even) or in a more controlled way (spiritual disciplines like yoga, meditation) we’re stuck with it! We all need to break free from the constraints of routine at times.
However, what Neptune represents deep within is the yearning for the Other, for that which gives some underlying meaning to our lives. It’s our sense that there’s something Greater than us mere humans; some Spiritual aspect to existence that ‘calls us’ and even shapes our Destiny. In a less secular age this would simply have been acknowledged as the religious impulse, but there’s one notable figure from recent history who knew all about this impulse, and who called it the ‘mystic emotion’:
‘The finest emotion of which we are capable is the mystic emotion. Herein lies the germ of all art and all true science. Anyone to whom this feeling is alien, who is no longer capable of wonderment and lives in a state of fear is a dead man. To know that what is impenetrable for us really exists and manifests itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, whose gross forms alone are intelligible to our poor faculties — this knowledge, this feeling … that is the core of the true religious sentiment. In this sense, and in this sense alone, I rank myself among profoundly religious men.’2
The words quoted above are from none other than the great scientist Albert Einstein. Note his phrase about being ‘capable of wonderment’ – that is the kind of emotion associated with Neptune; that which is deeply moving and causes the most exquisite shiver in one’s soul, and yet often defies real description. In its mildest form, our Neptune takes shape in daydreams, fantasy, in fact, any imaginative pursuit that lets the spirit soar and renews the soul. The material world, for some of us, can feel like a prison, and Neptune is that urge to be free – of the chains of matter, structure and mortal limitations. Almost as if we unconsciously seek to return to the safety of the womb, Paradise, a Garden of Eden that entails no struggle or earthy responsibility. Like Adam and Eve before the Fall.
NEPTUNE IN THE REAL WORLD
This need to connect to the Spirit, this longing for Eden may entail a projection on to another individual. This will be a Redeemer writ large, be it in the guise of the local vicar, a Shaman, High Priest or some cult leader who provides an escape route from life and its burdens. (In some religious cults, many apparently intelligent people surrender their will to some Messiah-like figurehead who needs only to utter the right spiritual platitudes to induce loving acquiescence. In turn, the followers are in awe of their great enigmatic leader. Some cults, like the Moonies, have been accused of brainwashing, but much of the followers’ compliance is due to their own collusion. It is that archetypal yearning for Eden.)
On another tack, Neptune can be seen in the popular fads of everyday life, as we collectively gravitate towards this or that particular fashion, film genre, hairstyle, musical trend, or piece of technology. When Neptune moved through Aquarius (from 1998 to 2011) the WorldWideWeb became immensely popular – Aquarius symbolising the spirit of democracy, equality and community. For the first time ever, anyone could air their views to the entire world, make friends with total strangers instantly and join in the ‘have-a-go-Joe’ democracy (due to the new technologies). However, with Neptune in Pisces (April 2011 was its first appearance; then Feb 2012) we are now seeing entire populations becoming more ‘spiritually’ acclimatised, even in largely secular countries like Britain.
For example, instead of belonging to a religious denomination, it is people’s personal spirituality that is now burgeoning. A New Statesman piece from late 2013 shows that (in a poll conducted by a Christian think-tank) over 59% of respondents in Great Britain said they believed in some type of spiritual Being, with even a third of non-religious individuals admitting to believing in ‘something’. What’s most significant about these statistics is that a mere 13% agreed with the statement that ‘humans are purely material beings with no spiritual element.’
The publishing industry has benefitted from this, too (a trend that can be dated back to March 2003 when Uranus (innovation) entered Pisces. The runaway popularity of New Age films and best selling books about spiritual development (What the Bleep Do We Know, 2004; The Power of Now, 2004; The Secret, 2006, The Shack 2007; The Lost Symbol, 2009) had the hardened materialist sceptics and scientific community foaming at the mouth.
ON THE BIRTH CHART
What does Neptune do on the birth chart, then? Neptune is, essentially, your sense of the mystical – a link your basic spirituality. No matter how level-headed and materialistic (Saturnian) you may be, you tend to be more idealistic, sensitive, compassionate and charitable where Neptune makes its presence felt. The Neptune in Pisces transit, for example, suggests a yearning for heaven, for the impossible ideal, and thus there is always the opportunity for mystical exaggeration and misunderstanding – Pisces rules the irrational too! The alleged Mayan apocalypse 21st Dec 2012 (an embodiment of the present Neptune in Pisces transit) was a religious idea that ended up completely confused. (Confusion about actual hard facts area typical Neptunian theme!)
But whilst we’re looking at the negative side of Neptune, let’s state that it comes from the same archetypal quest for Eden, that attempt to transcend (or should it be escape?) our everyday world. Sometimes the real world is too much to bear – and we retreat into our imagination, lost in our own fantasies, about ourselves and life in general. Done to excess this can become self deception. In turn, this becomes deception of others, as we try to maintain various fictions about our lives. Then we get the deluded, lying side of Neptune. People with this planet strongly emphasised need a reality check now and then!
I mentioned earlier that Neptune yearns for the ideal – this is the keyword to use when you are interpreting it on the birth chart. In the astrological houses, we’re idealistic about the affairs of that house. In the 2nd, we ‘rise above’ the grubby, material world, feeling that there’s a more worthwhile, ideal purpose for money, like giving to charity and good causes. In the 4th house, we seek the ideal place to live, in the 5th, we’re looking for the ideal love affair, in the 7th, the ideal partner, in the 6th, maybe even the ideal work situation. (Perhaps one does a ‘Neptunian’ job – artist, nurse, healer, medium, oil rig worker.)
Of course these interpretations are hopelessly oversimplified – they are a mere starting point. Just remember that with Neptune we look at the world with idealistic tinted goggles!
1. Hendrick Vroom(1996), No Other Gods, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing,
2. Einstein, In Barker, Peter/Shugart, Cecil G, ‘After Einstein : Proceedings of the Einstein Centennial Celebration’, 1981.